A Taste of Gold and Iron – Book Review

A Taste of Gold and Iron
by Alexandra Rowland

Genres: LGBTQIA Fantasy

Pub. Date: August 30,2022

Format: E-ARC via NetGalley

Synopsis from NetGalley:

The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.


A Taste of Gold and Iron is a gorgeous, swoon-worthy fantasy and slow-burn romance filled with high stakes political drama, mental health representation, sibling dynamics, platonic and romantic relationships, all set in a queer normative fantasy world.

I’m not even sure were to start with this except I am still giddy having just finished this book. I immediately had to put my thoughts down so people can read them and then immediately go buy the book. I’m just in awe of the world-building, the character developments, the slowest slow burn that burned, and the way I want to live in this book please.

Fun Fact: This is the first fantasy book I can remember reading where I was even remotely interested in the coinage and economic world. It makes sense, I promise, and I wish I had the words to tell you how much I loved it and why it is so damn interesting.

Okay. Let’s start with my prince. Rowland’s portrayal of anxiety via the sweet anxious prince Kadou is utter perfection. As someone with severe anxiety, it was so refreshing to see a main character really experience the “fear-creature” that so creeps up on you and lands on your chest when you begin to spiral. And the care with with his close friend, Tadek, took with him made me cry every time.

Evemer, the bodyguard of my dreams. And not just because he is attractive as hell. His loyalty is astounding, his relationship journey with Kadou was beautiful to witness. And I want to hug this man so hard that his self esteem issues go away. He is such a wonderful character.

And between the pair of them, Kadou and Evemer took my standard of enemies to lovers and threw it out the window. In the best way. I am so glad we got both of their POVs because the idiocy and the sweetness and the pining and the tension. So. So. Good.

Aside from my two precious idiots, Tadek is the most precious and the most ridiculous. I adored him so much. I would love to see a novella or some delicious fanfic from his point of view, because oh my goodness, my man went through it. And his banter and quips are top tier.

I could seriously go on and on about this book. If you love fantasy tropes meets romance tropes that then amps them up and makes them better, get this book. If you love the exploration of all kinds of relationships, get this book. If you love political drama and high stakes investigations with breaks for pining and kissing to avert suspicious, get this book. Even if you love none of these things, please get this book.

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for this free copy of A Taste of Gold and Iron in exchange for a honest review.

Book Review: The Work Wife

The Work Wife
By: Alison B. Hart
Genres: LGBTQ Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Format: E-ARC via NetGalley

Synopsis from NetGalley

Three fierce women connected to a billionaire film mogul collide at a Hollywood party in this richly observed novel about female ambition, complicity, and privilege.

Zanne Klein never planned to be a personal assistant to Hollywood royalty Ted and Holly Stabler. But a decade in at thirty-eight, that’s exactly how she spends her days, earning six figures to make sure the movie mogul and his family have everything they could ever dream of and more.

However, today is no ordinary day at the Stabler estate. Tonight, everyone who’s anyone will be there for the Hollywood event of the season, and if the party’s a success, that chief of staff job Zanne’s been chasing may soon be hers. Which means she can buy a house, give her girlfriend the life she deserves, pay off her student loans.

Nothing’s going to get in Zanne’s way—not disgruntled staff, not a nosy reporter, not even a runaway hostess. But when Ted’s former business partner, Phoebe Lee, unexpectedly shows up right before go time, Zanne suddenly has a catastrophe unfolding before her—one with explosive consequences. As the truth comes out and Zanne realizes how deeply entangled she’s become in the Stablers’ world, she must decide if the sacrifices she’s made for the job are worth the moral price she has to pay.


Review

The Work Wife is a queer contemporary lit fic told from three POVs from three different women each connected to an eccentric film maker, Ted Stabler. This book’s main event takes place in one day, at Ted’s party, with plenty of reminiscing and flashbacks with each woman’s POV.

This book did take me a while to get into, but once I did, I was hooked. Keep in mind I read an advanced reader copy (ARC) so it’s possible what I read is not the final published piece. I say this as there are a lot of sections I would have cut entirely or shortened.

At times, a lot of the event planning details got overwhelming and I just skimmed through those. And my biggest “meh” factor was the Hollywood name droppings of celebrities. I know, I know, this is set in Hollywood, but I kind of wish it was a Hollywood adjacent world because my eyes started to glaze over with all the directors and writers and producers that I don’t know. (If you are a Hollywood buff and know the culture and names, you will probably love those bits!)

Now onto the POVs.

Zanne, our sapphic queer, is a almost forty year old who is in line for a promotion. Her POV is very go-go-go, checklists, wonderings, and always thoughts for moving in and moving up with her much younger girlfriend. She begins to find her loyalty tested once Ted’s past comes face to face with her in a random meeting.

Holly, our rags to riches hostess, is a bucket of anxiety and host of insecurity that she tries desperately to mask, which really ramps up as her POV continues once many thing are revealed about her husband Ted’s past.

Phoebe, our sidelined director/writer, is dealing with a lot. Her POV is probably my favorite even if it’s the most difficult to read. The racism and sexism as a Korean woman in Hollywood, her creative loss she expulsion, her secret marriage and divorce from Ted, her trying to move on and then finally tell her story. It’s a lot.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and am glad I read it. While the first half of it was slow going for me and easy to put down, once I hit about the 60% mark I read through the rest of it in one night. The tension, the confronting the past, and putting yourself back into the world amid much Hollywood politics was so captivating to read.

If you like queer contemporary fiction with a heavy dose of Hollywood being horrible and watching it through the lens of three different women, I do recommend getting your hands on The Work Wife.

Book Review: Vengeance Becomes Her

Vengeance Becomes Her
By: Alexis C. Maness
Genres: Dark Fantasy Romance
Publication Date: July 7, 2022
Format: E-ARC via Alexis

Synopsis from GoodReads:

He will regret awakening the monster within me.

Cast against a shadowed low fantasy world, this tale of feminine rage, dark magic, and desire follows Rhiannon in her bloody pursuit of vengeance.

Death came for Rhiannon disguised as love. She survived, barely. Now, she will do anything to get her revenge and finally claw her way back to herself. But the forces against her are greater and more sinister than one man, and she’s not the only one in danger.

Fear for the women of Larindia and beyond propels Rhiannon down an increasingly dangerous path that illuminates an insidious evil that has lurked in the shadows of her world as she seeks to stop the man who took everything from her. She will get her retribution, but will her thirst for blood destroy her in the process?

Please read full list of Content Warnings here.


Review

Vengeance Becomes Her is a dark fantasy romance that takes the “fuck the patriarchy” and revenge trope to a brilliantly done extreme. Alexis C. Maness writes incredible Big Babes & Badassery, aka, gorgeously fat, morally grey characters.

Part of me still doesn’t actually know what to write for a review. I am just still in awe and processing this world, these characters, these relationships, THE ENDING! I will warn the most WHAAA of cliffhangers. So so worth it though.

Rhiannon and Tristian both are swoon worthy and I have a crush on both of them. So much so, that I want to shake them when they are being ridiculous, Rhiannon more so (FOR VALID REASONS). I adore every scene they are together, every intimate scene, every fight scene, every spicy scene. These two know how to bring the heat. Maness is exceptional at writing shifting power dynamics in sex scenes. I love love love watching them both be the dominant one and then in the next breath decide when they want or need to submit.

And Silas. I don’t know what to say about Silas. He’s not a redeemable villain by any means, and I appreciate that being done! I love me a redeemable villain, but sometimes villains are just the worst. And that’s okay!

The revenge journey is so well done, so hard to read at times because I just want to hug Rhiannon and wish hugs were enough. But that is the beauty of this book. People heal and grieve differently. I cannot wait to see where Maness takes this in the sequel. I honestly don’t even know what I am expecting or what I want to happen. I’m just ready for it.

If you like gorgeous, swoony worthy stabby babes, angsty romance, hot as fuck sex scenes, and revenge stories, Vengeance Becomes Her should be on your list immediately.

Book Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb #2
By: Cat Sebastian
Genres: Historical Romance, LGBTQIA
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Format: E-ARC via NetGalley

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her–and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country–stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats–they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.


Review

Thank you to Cat Sebastian, Avon Books, and NetGalley for a free e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes is just as brilliant and queer as The Queer Principles of Kit Webb. I love that we got to see Marian and Rob in this book and love where this story took me.

A quick gush before review – I am utterly in love with the first chapter being Marian and Rob’s entire letter correspondence that takes places in the wings of the first book. Seeing little nods to the coffeeshop, Percy, and Kit made my heart happy. I was really hoping we would get those!

Marian is a quick witted, reluctant duchess who just wants freedom for herself, her daughter, her father, and her friend Percy. She does not want or need anything Sentimental or Cozy. Rob is a charming, roguish man with a secret, who wants to make sure his friend Kit is safe from the noose, probably repair their relationship, and just wishes his heart would stop doing Things around Marian.

These bisexual disasters are amazing together, their banter is top tier, and I just have the most epic of crushes on them both.

And once again, it wouldn’t be a Cat Sebastian book without commentary on classism and I am so here for it. And I adore the way it’s done, grappling with “inherited” titles, dukes and duchesses. I love seeing Rob and Marian’s view points as they both struggle with the idea of freedom their “roles” in society.

LASTLY AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I am obsessed with the relationship dynamic and the steamy scenes and how that dynamic plays out. How it’s just so queer and goes where I rarely see M/F relationships go. I have such high standards to begin with and now they are even higher, so thank you, Cat Sebastian for that.

If you like queer novels, the most disastrous of bisexuals, banter, and a high stakes romance, please read this series and join me in being absolutely gone on these characters.

Book Review: Dark Night Golden Dawn

Dark Night Golden Dawn
Series: The Immortal Order #1
By: Allison Carr Waechter
Genres: Adult Fantasy Romance
Publication Date: April 12, 2022
Format: E-ARC via author

Synopsis from GoodReads:

In a city where the elite are powerful as gods, the season is about to begin. The Immortal Orders will gather, pair and create a spectacle for all of Nuva Troi to witness.

Harlow Krane is a sorcière who wants nothing more than to recover from her most recent breakup in peace. When the season begins, her Order needs her help to save their ancestral occult district from being taken over by the Illuminated, the most powerful immortals in Nuva Troi. They offer to back off—if Harlow agrees to pair with their most eligible bachelor, Finn McKay. But Harlow has been burned by Finn before.

Finn McKay is one of the Illuminated. Rich, powerful, and he isn’t afraid of anyone—except for his parents. When they push him towards Harlow Krane, he knows their purposes are sinister at best. For the past seven years, Finn has done everything in his power to stay away from Harlow and he won’t break his resolve now, even if it means defying his parents. As the season begins, it’s clear something is dangerously wrong but besides Finn, only Harlow seems to notice.

With magic behaving strangely, the balance of power between the Immortal Orders and humans grows deadlier by the day. Harlow and Finn must work together to keep ancient grudges from resurfacing and take back their lives in the process. If they can get over their past, the whole world may have a brighter future.


Review

Once again, I am in awe of Allison Carr Waechter’s ability to create such gorgeous worlds and realistic characters. Dark Night Golden Dawn is one of those books that just has you wanting to fall into pages and never come back out.

Harlow is one of my top ten fantasy romance characters that I would smooch/be best friends with. I love the complexity, the insecurity, the personal growth, the magical growth, the healing. All of it. Harlow is a character that just feels so real and I adored reading her journey. And cannot wait to read more.

Finn. Oh my Finn. How, what, where do I start? I KNEW well in advance before reading this book that Finn would be very My Type and give me Gender Feels and I wasn’t wrong. I want to shake him, smooch him, snuggle him. In that order. His loyalty and dedication are by far my favorite things about him. And also the things that drive me bonkers for Reasons.

Watching the pair of them in this somewhat one sided Enemies to Lovers, Second Chance Romance, Bridgerton vibe Season romancing was a fucking joy. Feeling the depth of so many emotions as Harlow navigates her world post an abusive relationship was heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. The absolute range of emotions I went through reading this was intense.

And just real quick, can we talk about all the other fleshed out complex beautiful characters?! The Maters (Auriela and Selene are the older lesbian couple I want to adopt me), the sisters (Thea, Meline, Indigo, and Larkin all make my heart happy), Enzo (another Gender Feels/Envy), Riley Quinn (Please marry me!), and so so many more. I’m just so thankful that these characters exist with their own stories, their own desires, their own goals, their own flaws, and do not exist just to be decor. They are ALL in it. IN IT!

I cannot wait to read the rest of this series. If you enjoy the high stakes of Bridgerton courtship, the wide spectrum of family dynamics, the steam from sexual tension that you know will burn you, and the lushness of fantasy worlds, please read this book.

Thank you to my dear friend, Allison, for giving me this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White


Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.

But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.

Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.


Thank you to Andrew Joseph White, Peachtree Teen, and NetGalley for a free e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Hell Followed with Us is a very queer YA dystopian novel set in a future that seems eerily familiar and plausible. Maybe not to the grand scientific scale that this book lays out, but I found myself cringing at familiar Christian extremist rhetoric and internal mindsets. The blending of trans dysphoria, forced body changes, and reclamation of being an “abomination” was truly well done and I found myself punching the air with my fist many times and shrieking with joy as I read through the ending.

This is a book I desperately wish I had when I was an angry teen. I read this book for my angry teen self, rooted for Benji for my confused teen self, and applauded him as my adult trans nonbinary self.

My favorite part of this novel is that it follows a group of survivors who are all queer teens. Seeing them interact with each other, interact with a militia, and seeing them grapple internally with a what is right and what is needed, was so real. The anger, the love, the confusion, the denial, it’s all there and all relatable.

AJW doesn’t shy away from the anger, the (literal) tooth and claws that are sometimes needed to fight and that is what I found most amazing in this book. While there are definite moments of “Sweetie, what are you doing?!” I couldn’t help but root for Benji, Nick, (the relationship between him and Benji is my favorite) and all the teens of ALC even watching the mistakes, watching the path they were taking.

Lastly: Please check the Content Warnings on AJW’s author page before reading. While I found it to be a cathartic read, there are some scenes that can be viscerally disturbing and you should be in a good mindspace before reading.

Book Review: The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton

The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton
Genres: Dark Academia
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: E-ARC via NetGalley

Synopsis from GoodReads:

When shy, sensitive Laura Stearns arrives at St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine, she dreams that life there will echo her favorite novel, All Before Them, the sole surviving piece of writing by Byronic “prep school prophet” (and St. Dunstan’s alum) Sebastian Webster, who died at nineteen, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. She soon finds the intensity she is looking for among the insular, Webster-worshipping members of the school’s chapel choir, which is presided over by the charismatic, neurotic, overachiever Virginia Strauss. Virginia is as fanatical about her newfound Christian faith as she is about the miles she runs every morning before dawn. She expects nothing short of perfection from herself—and from the members of the choir.

Virginia inducts the besotted Laura into a world of transcendent music and arcane ritual, illicit cliff-diving and midnight crypt visits: a world that, like Webster’s novels, finally seems to Laura to be full of meaning. But when a new school chaplain challenges Virginia’s hold on the “family” she has created, and Virginia’s efforts to wield her power become increasingly dangerous, Laura must decide how far she will let her devotion to Virginia go.


Review

The World Cannot Give left me emotionally devastated for days. I mean this in the best (worst?) way. I will try to review this book as best I can without spoilers. This is one book that I will read again when I want to be devastated and in my obsessive feelings.

A queer, dark academia novel set in a boarding school in Maine, centered around a group of choral students led by a cold, yet alluring girl named Virginia, Laura, the new girl, is immediately taken. We get to witness her fall for a girl who is everything that she sees in their favorite author, Sebastian Webster. We get to see Laura grapple with her feelings, her sexuality, her perceived failings. It is such an experience and I truly loved seeing the imperfection, the problematic representations, and the outright denial of reality until it was impossible to do so.

This book is set into three parts spaced out over the school year. And this story lays out what it looks like to put someone (fictional and real) on a pedestal and to watch the fall from grace. It was such a disturbing journey at times, but I enjoyed and hurt my own feelings by connecting so deeply to the characters, even as problematic and unlikeable as some of them are.

I do want to note about the topic of AroAce representation in this book. I have seen many reviews blasting it for having Virginia represent an aroace character under the guise of her being aroace because of religion. That was not something that I personally interpreted. (As a sidenote: the ONLY queer identity even explicitly stated is Isabel and her girlfriend being lesbians.) Speaking as an ace queer, the topic of sex in book is more about power and manipulation than by an individuals queerness and identity. Not saying that a queer person cannot use sex as a power tool, because that can definitely be the case; and so far as aro, there is a conversation about how she doesn’t love people “in that way” but again, I don’t feel it has to do with religion. In general, I do feel like Virginia’s character flaw/problematic behavior is so much more about her manipulation than about her wielding her religious identity. I hope that makes sense.

When I tell you the ending wrecked me, I do not mean this lightly. I did not see the ending coming and it absolutely devastated me; I cried, I yelled at the characters, and felt so many emotions after closing the book.
It is an emotionally charged story and I highly recommend being in a good head space while reading it (fun fact, I was not, which may be why it hit me so hard).

Semi-spoilery, please remember this is a Dark Academia book. Common tropes include cult like/secret society rites and behaviors, obsession, betrayal, death, unhealthy attachments to people both literal and fictional, unlikable and unreliable characters.

Minor complaint: I have no idea why this book is compared to Fight Club? Someone please explain that to me.

Thank you to Tara Isabella Burton, Simon & Schuster, and NetGalley for this e-book in exchange for a honest review.